Australia vs Sri Lanka: Hosts overcome a fight to claim 1st final
Nuwan Kulasekara's whirlwind knock worth 73 and a spirited lower-order effort failed to propel Sri Lanka to a win against Australia in the first of three finals of the CB Series, on Sunday. The visitors were bowled out 15 runs short chasing 322.
David Warner chose a fine time to awaken from his one-day international slumber. His first ODI century set up a 15-run victory in the first final for Australia, who will raise the Commonwealth Bank Series trophy if they repeat their success in Adelaide on Tuesday. But Sri Lanka will enter the second final with some confidence after a remarkable, though ultimately futile, fightback in a chase of 322.
Warner made 163, the sixth-highest score by an Australia player in an ODI, and he batted through until the last ball of the innings as they made 321, the second-best one-day international total ever achieved at the Gabba. Sri Lanka's batsmen then struggled against the pace of Brett Lee and the canny spin of David Hussey, and the top order left too much work for those who followed.
Not that those who followed gave up. Far from it. Nuwan Kulasekara and Upul Tharanga came together at 6 for 144, needing another 178 runs at nearly nine an over. It seemed an unrealistic goal, and in the end it was. But only just. They used the batting Powerplay to great effect, taking 68 runs from it and attacking Ben Hilfenhaus and James Pattinson, who both served up too many half-volleys and between them finished the match with 0 for 95 off nine overs.
Though Kulasekara and Tharanga had both fallen in the search for boundaries by the time the last few overs came around, they had left their colleagues with some hope. Sri Lanka needed 20 off the final two overs but they couldn't quite get there and the end came when Lasith Malinga skied a catch to deep square leg off Shane Watson when they needed 16 from five balls, leaving Dhammika Prasad unbeaten on 31.
Watson had also accounted for the important penultimate wicket when Rangana Herath pulled to deep midwicket for 5. If only, Sri Lanka must have been thinking, we hadn't left it all up to the tail. With each boundary struck by Kulasekara and Tharanga - and there were plenty - Sri Lanka gained hope. Australia's bowling at the death in this series has left a lot to be desired and again it was a weakness.
Kulasekara was especially impressive and a pair of consecutive slog-swept sixes off Hussey really brought the crowd alive. But two balls later he sent a catch to extra cover and was out for 73 from 43 deliveries, his best ODI score. Although Tharanga was the specialist batsman in the partnership he had been the quieter of the two, and he followed a few overs later when he holed out to long-on off Watson for 60.
Sri Lanka will rue their top-order struggle. Mahela Jayawardene was caught behind for 14 when he pushed tamely at Lee and his opening partner, Tillakaratne Dilshan, followed in Lee's next over. Dilshan had picked up five boundaries in his 27 from 22 balls, before his innings ended when Lee nipped one through the gate as Dilshan tried for a big drive.
Dinesh Chandimal cut the first ball from David Hussey, who finished with 4 for 43, to backward point and Kumar Sangakkara lobbed a delivery from Lee to mid-off for 42, trying to lift the tempo as the required run-rate increased. Lahiru Thirimanne and Farveez Maharoof both fell to Hussey prior to the partnership that nearly saved Sri Lanka.
Even though they didn't steal the win, Tharanga and Kulasekara still created a wonderful match. If anyone thought one-day internationals were dead, they need only see the past week in Australia for the counterargument. On Tuesday, Virat Kohli set up India's incredible chase of 321 in 37 overs and on Friday, Sri Lanka held on for a tense nine-run win despite the best chasing efforts of David Hussey.
And then there was this match, which began with 163 from Warner, an innings that threatened to be forgotten by the end of the game. He was bowled off the last ball of Australia's 50th over and by then he had done enough not only to set up Australia's win, but also to ease any pressure over his place in the side following an indifferent series at the top of the order.
Warner and Matthew Wade gave Australia an outstanding start with a 136-run opening partnership and although Wade fell for 64, Warner went on and made the most of the platform. He brought up his century with a fortuitous edge to the third-man boundary from his 111th delivery and celebrated with the now-familiar Warner high-leap and punch of the air.
It was a more restrained innings than many of Warner's limited-overs efforts but that was no bad thing, and he still had the confidence to go for his shots when the bowlers gave him the opportunity. Warner was especially strong with his drives down the ground, which were generally timed to perfection, and he also pulled with power from midwicket to long-on.
His scoring-rate didn't pick up as much as the fans might have liked towards the end of the innings but it was still a wonderful display. He had late support from Michael Clarke, who scored 37 from 25 balls batting at No.6, and Michael Hussey sent a couple of balls over the rope in the final few overs to help Australia to their hefty total.
Michael Hussey had come in at No.7 after a reshuffle in the batting order. Australia had sent in Daniel Christian and David Hussey early, keen to make the most of the strong opening stand, which ended with a spectacular, freakish catch in the outfield from Herath.
Wade seemed to make good contact with a delivery from Kulasekara but it only got as far as long-on; Herath set himself for the catch but seemed to misjudge the trajectory slightly and in a last, desperate attempt thrust his left hand in the air as he fell backwards, plucking the catch one-handed and avoiding the boundary rope as he fell over and held on to the ball. He appeared almost as stunned by his feat as the spectators were.
It wasn't the last remarkable thing achieved by Sri Lanka in this match. But despite their fight, they will enter Tuesday's second final in Adelaide needing a win to force a decider. And, after such a closely fought series, that would be a fitting finale.